Little Rock Look Back: Thanksgiving Day Football in 1918

100 years ago, the Little Rock High School Tigers football game on Thanksgiving was against a group of soldiers from Camp Pike.

The game took place on Thursday, November 28, 1918. The Great War had ended a little over a fortnight earlier, but the game had been scheduled while hostilities were still going.

The Tigers, who had never lost on Thanksgiving Day after starting a tradition of playing on the day in 1914, were for the first time the underdogs. The soldiers of the 13th Training Battalion were slightly older and much bigger – an average of 20 pounds bigger per player.

Going into the game, the Little Rock High School team was down a key player. Julian Adams was out with wrenched knee.  Another player John Ward was also absent (though the newspaper accounts do not indicate why).

Coach George H. Wittenberg was missing along the sidelines due to illness. He was not the first coach to be absent that season.  The regular coach, Earl Quigley, had been drafted and was stationed in South Carolina during the season.  Wittenberg, was a faculty member at the time. He had lettered for the football team when he had been a student a decade or so earlier. Later, as an architect, he would be one of the designers of the new Little Rock High School, now Central High School.

The game took place at Kavanaugh Field (a baseball field also used for football).  Though it is now the site of current Central’s storied Quigley Stadium, this was nearly a decade before the high school moved from Scott Street to Park Street.

The Camp Pike gridiron team dominated the game before a crowd of 1,000. The soldiers made three touchdowns in the first quarter, two in the second, one in the third, and one more to cap off the game in the fourth.

The closest the Tiger eleven got to scoring was in the second quarter when Hershell Riffel caught the ball at the 12 yard line and team captain and quarterback Alvin Bell advanced another six yards.  Camp Pike held them there.  Just before the game ended, Bell injured his knee and was taken out of the game.

Also that day, the University of Arkansas beat Kendall College (now the University of Tulsa) in Tulsa by a score of 23 to 6, West Tennessee Normal (now University of Memphis) defeated the Jonesboro Aggies (now Arkansas State Red Wolves) by a score of 37 to 0, and Hendrix College bested Henderson-Brown (now Henderson State University) by a score of 9 to 7.

Thanks to Brian Cox’s book Tiger Pride: 100 Years of Little Rock Central High Football for filling in some of the players names which were omitted in the newspaper coverage.

Little Rock and World War I – City Auditorium goes to war

From 1906 until 1920, a temporary structure stood next to City Hall.  It was Little Rock’s first city auditorium.

It was a flexible use structure consisting of a large room with a stage on one end. It had a variety of uses including a roller skating rink.  In the lead up to US involvement in the Great War, the Arkansas National Guard obtained permission to use it as a rifle range when it was not being used for other purposes.

Once the US entered the Great War, the facility was also used as a place for recreation for officers stationed at Camp Pike.  It was the site of dances as well as basketball games and other sporting competitions.

In addition, various organizations used the facility for patriotic rallies and music concerts.

(Note, after 1912, the front of the facade which appears in the photo was removed.  The new Central Fire Station was constructed between the auditorium and Markham Street. A new entrance to the auditorium was built off of Arch Street.)

May is Heritage Month in Arkansas.  The 2017 theme is World War I.  On Thursdays in May, the blog will look at various ways Little Rock took part in the Great War.